Naval Language

WWII Navy

Jim (c) and two friends early in the war.

On first reading the title of this letter from Jim my thoughts went to cussing sailors. Then I thought, “Wait a minute! Jim wasn’t much of a cusser.” What’s the deal with this letter?

Jim tells the story of what he learned in Navy boot camp in 1941, a couple of months before World War II erupted into the American consciousness. In his own indomitable (one of his favorite words) way he relates boot camp not to the normal deprivations and indignities, but to the new words he had to learn. Naval Language.

Within the first paragraph  I was ready to learn new words for all sorts of things. Not this time. He learned his lesson well. On the surface, this letter is a lengthy list of definitions and new terms he learned in boot camp. He missed one term that I clearly remember him using after my first month at NDSU. I had moved in and had lived in the dorm for a couple of weeks before he had Air Guard drill in Fargo. He told me that he was eager to see my “quarters.” I couldn’t figure that out. I didn’t have a coin collection that amounted to anything. The few coins I had were mostly pennies. Why would he want to see my quarters? Oh. Naval Language for the place you slept.

All of the other terms Jim describes were quite familiar to me. Over the years he used every one of them many times. He was only one of thousands of WWII veterans that brought new language back to the states. Until reading this letter I didn’t know how much he really learned in boot camp.

Jim writes:

Boot camp or recruit training is a profound shock to most recruits because the navy begins its job of building men by destroying the identity they brought with them. Their heads are shaved. They are assigned numbers. The drill instructor is their Mother, Father, their God!

Continue reading